Mari Borrero has been a United States Marine, a Kent School District teacher, a hospice care worker and a mentor with a big heart.
About five years ago, Borrero got to thinking about her fellow veterans who have left the military and are struggling to transition to civilian life.
She also got to thinking about ex-convicts like her husband, Aaron, beset with their own hurdles as they try to re-enter a world that moved past them when they were behind bars — a world that in many cases wants as little as possible to do with them.
“We were just one family impacted by incarceration, but what if we could help three or four more families impacted by it?” Mari Borrero recalled asking herself. “How would it change their lives, their way of living, being able to provide for their families, and especially for their kids who are also impacted by it?”
She realized she wanted to found a business to help both sets.
“The system is not really set up for those easy transitions to a work space and re-entry,” Borrero explained. “One day, Aaron said to me, ‘Hey, we can do this,’ and I said OK, to help our community, I will be an employer of those who were previously incarcerated and of veterans who are out of the service and seeking another opportunity.”
Two to three weeks ago, the business they founded five years ago, American Abatement and Demo general contractor, moved from its cradle in their home to the southeast corner of East Main Street and Auburn Way North.
The business specializes in asbestos and lead abatement, mold removal, structural and interior demolition on the residential and commercial sides. Their goal is to help people not only as an employer, but as a whole person. It does this by offering little accommodations, such as a vehicle to get to work on time or lending help to get their driver’s license, and if they can’t get it right away, getting the person to a local bus point where work trucks will pick them up.
And, crucially, to provide a support system outside of work to help people with their personal lives, which can negatively affect even their getting to work.
“From that came this,” Borrero said in her new office, “but I never expected it to be what it has become right now and what it’s growing to be. But I knew that we had to find a way to give back, and that’s really how we help our community — by being an employer that helps to meet their needs because they have a lot of needs. A lot of the guys who have been previously incarcerated probably didn’t have a father in their lives, didn’t even have a first job.”
“I am a veteran myself, and I know some of the hardships on transitioning from the military, and even just finding employment afterward in a field,” said Borrero. “I had that experience, and also my husband was previously incarcerated, and he was granted clemency by Gov. Inslee and released. It was difficult for him to find employment. As teachers, we learned that kids are most successful when they have five close relationships early on. I don’t think it’s any different now that we’re adults, that we need to have at least five people vested in us being successful. And personally, as a business owner, I feel like I have a handful of people who are vested in my success.”
To be certified as an asbestos worker in Washington state, all of her employees must take a four-day, 32-hour course and pass a test. At the end of that process, the employee earns a Washington state asbestos worker certification. They also take lead classes that allow them to do lead renovation and repair work.
Bruce, who served on a construction battalion with the U.S. Navy and completed one tour in Afghanistan, described his experience transitioning back to civilian life.
“When I got out of the military, the biggest struggle was finding a job. I had quit a job to deploy, and when I came back, that job was no longer available, so I had to find a new one,” said Bruce, an estimator, project manager and supervisor for the company who asked that his last name not be used. “I have been out for a few years, but coming here, they look for veterans to help them out.”